Zoo accreditation in jeopardy

Manual Mollinedo
Manual Mollinedo

By Brooks Baehr - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Honolulu Zoo is in danger of losing accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

According to Sidney Quintal, who oversees the zoo as Director of the city Department of Enterprise Services, the AZA is concerned about zoo staffing, the absence of a second veterinarian, inadequate signage, and a substandard elephant exhibit.

According to the AZA accreditation develops public confidence, distinguishes accredited zoos from "roadside zoos," provides a "recognized badge' signifying a commitment to such things as animal care, and promotes excellence within an institution.

The AZA evaluates accredited zoos every five years. It can either decertify or reaccredit based on what it finds.

After a site visit in January, the AZA decided not to renew the Honolulu Zoo's accreditation until improvements are made. It has not stripped the zoo of its current accreditation.

"Our care here for our animals is excellent. We provide very good care for our animals," said Honolulu Zoo director Manual Mollinedo.

Mollinedo, who took over day to day zoo operations in December, said some of the issues cited by the AZA were already being addressed when the AZA team made its three day visit in early January.

"We were mid stream. This front entrance, we were working on it," Mollinedo said referencing the new $3 million dollar entrance to the zoo. "But as far as the AZA is concerned when they are here, that doesn't count because it was not completed. The (new, larger) $12 million elephant exhibit, it's going to be completed in October. That didn't count because it wasn't completed."

Quintal told Hawaii News Now the city is trying to fill some vacant staff positions at the zoo including that of a second veterinarian.

"We had hired two vets. One vet did leave, so it's been about a year and a half. We've been trying to get another veterinarian on staff. However, the pay rates for veterinarians here in Hawaii, especially with the city, are not as attractive to bringing talent over," Quintal said.

"It's always good to have another veterinarian on staff. For us, we've had to do more with less, so we have agreements with various veterinarians very close by to the zoo, and unlike other locations, they can get here in 20 minutes to a half an hour. So it is something that we felt we could work around, but AZA says, 'no' we want to have something more definitive," Quintal added.

He said the zoo will soon be installing new signs to help guide visitors through the zoo. It is part of a $1.2 million dollar upgrade to signs and graphics.

The accreditation team will come back in about nine months to check on progress. A short time later the AZA accreditation commission will decide if the zoo keeps its accreditation or loses the professional standing, confidence and prestige that comes with accreditation.

"We've got more people on staff than we had in 2005 (during the last regularly scheduled AZA accreditation visit). We've got our elephant exhibit that is set to go in about 9 months or so, and the signage and graphics," Quintal said. "So, I think we're well ahead of the curve and when that team does get back out here ... we feel confident that we have a lot of things in the mill now. Had they been finished when the team was here (in January), we'd probably been accredited," Quintal said.

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